Watching Roger Federer play at his peak must be one of the best experiences of any tennis aficionado. The experts regularly run out of superlatives to describe his sometimes otherworldly plays.
They are many examples, him destroying Jonas Bjorkman in the 2006 Wimbledon Semis where the Swede quipped that at least he had the best seat on centre court that day or when he went the entire 2006 Australian Open without dropping a set.
In the modern men’s game where power is paramount, Federer gives us something extra, his extraordinary court sense, his ability to almost read his opponents minds and his impeccable first serve that seems to have its own laser sight.
Some of his point winners are shots that only a supremely gifted player can conjure up, examples of which are too many to list here.
In the past four and a half years the Swiss has transcended the norms in the Open era and proceeded to dominate tennis like no one before, the records he has set and the awards he has amassed are all testaments his total dominance.
No singles tennis player in the open era male or female has spent more consecutive weeks at number one. His run of 10 consecutive Grand Slam finals and 17 Consecutive Grand Slam finals may never be repeated again or the four straight Laureaus sportsman of the year awards he’s been honored with.
For Federer 2008 should have been a continuation of 2007 with routine wins and more Grand Slam triumphs but suddenly chinks have began to appear in his armor and the chasing pack sense a certain vulnerability about the great champion.
His slow decline began with his Australian Open semi-final loss to the young Serb Novak Djokovic then his humiliating defeat to Rafael Nadal where Federer could only muster 4 games in the French open final.
This was then followed by his loss to Nadal in Wimbledon a place Federer has owned for the past five years in what has been described as arguably the best tennis match ever played.
Losing Wimbledon to Nadal was a devastating blow and may have damaged the Swiss star’s mental fragility when it comes to the muscular Spaniard.
Nadal is one of the few players on the ATP tour with a winning record against Federer and currently it stands at 12-6 and in the six Grand Slam finals that they have contested Nadal also leads 4-2.
Federer’s shockingly poor year in terms of titles won, he has only won two minor titles all year means he is going to relinquish his Number one status to the Spaniard tomorrow.
Federer’s sudden loss of form may be due to the fact that he suffered from glandular fever at the beginning of the year and most experts on the disease say it takes at least six to 9 months for a person to recover fully.
Another explanation may be that the chasing pack may have taken that one step closer to him and can now regularly challenge him.
At the beginning of the year you would not have gotten good odds on Federer finally passing Pete Sampras’s mark of 14 Grand Slam singles titles, because he was almost a shoo-in for 3 of the 4 Grand Slams.
He had the chance to salvage his season by winning the Olympics but there too, he failed to go past the quarterfinal after losing to James Blake, his first defeat to the American.
This fascinating duel at the top of tennis may yet eclipse the great rivalries of the past like Mc Enroe/Borg or Sampras/Agassi. Only time will tell if the Fed Express has truly run out of steam or if El Toro is the new Sheriff in Town.